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Interfaith: The very name is exclusive

Hassan Khalifeh

In a recent Huffington Post article, Harvard Humanist Chaplin, Greg Epstein expressed surprise that humanists were excluded from the interfaith service on April 18 following the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

For most Americans, this wasn’t much of a surprise. Even people who don’t immediately hate atheists for our lack of belief in deities would be quick to point out that atheism isn’t a faith and therefore atheists don’t belong in an “interfaith” service.

The problem however is not with atheists for wanting to be included in interfaith services, but rather with interfaith services themselves for pretending that they are inclusive when their very name is exclusive. If they desire to be exclusive that is one thing, but doing so while pretending to be inclusive just doesn’t work. The fact is that atheism is on the rise in America and many atheists have built and are building humanist communities like the one at Harvard. We are here and we are not going away; we’re growing!

Interfaith groups who truly wish to be inclusive are going to have to start giving us a seat at the table and welcoming us to that table. If leaders want to create a diverse table of worldviews, then they are going to have to open it up to non-faith traditions too. They can start by changing their name to be more inclusive. Atheists may not have faith, but many of us do have shared humanistic values and so that might be a good place to start.

An intervalues gathering would be more in the spirit of diversity and inclusiveness. Of course allowing atheists a seat at the table would be to acknowledge that the religious landscape is changing and that atheism is on the rise. Plus, it would be harder to accuse atheists of not caring when atheists are standing right next to the religious at intervalues gatherings.

The fact is that the very existence of atheists threatens the religious community. People are indoctrinated at near birth to believe that religion has the only answers and that it is just a matter of which answers are correct that is in question. Atheism rejects that premise from the start and so allowing atheists to share the same stage with religion reminds people that it is okay to question that premise.

The interfaith service presents a marketplace of bad ideas while excluding the good ideas. An intervalues gathering however opens up that marketplace and exposes the corruption inherent in the system. Atheists and humanists would serve as regulators who would be there to call shenanigans on the rigged system. Religious leaders don’t want that because the truth is that these gatherings aren’t about helping people deal with their grief; they are about exploiting their grief in order to solidify the con-game that is religion.

Please check out the Atheism 101 Series for frequently asked topics.

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